Lately I've been thinking about trying to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where the idea (at least I think it is) to write an entire novel in one month. Is this even possible?
Check out Dean Wesley Smith's blog posts on "Pulp Speed" writing, and the number of words possible for some people. A million words a year? Wow.
Heck, Michael Moorcock can write a 60K word novel in three days. The use of Lester Dent's Master Plot is blown out from 1500 words per section to 15K words per section, IIRC, and planning is key.
NaNoWriMo says to complete an average of 1667 words a day to make it. But that's the average. You can do more when you have a chance, and do what you can when you can on days when...well, you can't. :)
In the end, it's all BIC* time. The more you have, the more you'll do. Is it doable? Yeah, it is. But prep is key.
*- BIC = "Butt in Chair"
Here are some NaNoWriMo success stories:
I personally know someone who's finished the NaNo sprint, and it's tough, but definitely possible. At the very least, NaNoWriMo may not be the novel you want, but it can serve as a first draft that you can later rewrite and expound upon.
I once heard an entertaining lecture by the British pulp-SF author Lionel Fanthorpe about how he managed to produce at his peak an average of a 158 page book every 12 days. If Badger Books wanted a rush job, he could do a novel over a long weekend.
Taking time off to watch the cricket if there was a Test Match on, obviously.
It's important to understand what NaNoWriMo is, and what it isn't.
One of the things that it is, is a powerful demonstration that yes, it is possible. If you write your words every day, they will add up. If you stick at it, you will reach novel-length. If you let the words flow, they will come, even if they won't all be perfect.
It can be a liberating experience. Liberating, because it's a vivid demonstration that writing a novel is an attainable goal. And liberating, because in order to get that kind of wordcount (particularly for a relative novice), you need to let go of your inhibitions, of your self-doubt, of your internal critic and editor, and allow yourself to write for length, rather than perfection.
That's one of the huge stumbling blocks that beginners have -- they want to be writing fantastic, exhilarating prose (like the stories they love so much!), but they don't know that prose underwent multiple drafts, that those writers had years of experience, that those authors might have a trunkload of unpublished novels. Writing for length short-circuits that -- and so NaNoWriMo gives you a quick way to build up bulk, which may not be a finished product, but it can be a lot easier to work with than a blank page!
All that being said, NaNoWriMo isn't a quick path to producing excellent fiction. That novel is a first draft -- and often, it's a first draft that was very rushed, by a beginning writer, without even much of a sense of direction. There's no reason to expect it to be very good -- not until you start editing and rewriting it.
So, in summary: NaNoWriMo's quick, quick writing is totally doable, but you need to understand that the product will be a quick first draft, not a polished product. A quick first draft can be a huge thing for a writer, and I wouldn't dismiss it in a hurry -- but if, for whatever reason, that isn't what you want right now, then NaNoWriMo may not be for you.
(More broadly speaking, there are certainly some authors who write very quickly, and that works for them well professionally. Whether or not you're one of these is something you'll have to discover for yourself :) )
NaNoWriMo isn't there for professional writers who can easily complete a book in less than a month (they are still allowed to compete, but most don't). NaNoWriMo was created so that people who have always thought that they couldn't write would have encouragement to write.
The goal, 50,000 words, was deliberately chosen to be a doable goal by somebody who has a full-time job and a life. It takes dedication, but it is doable. There are a lot of success stories.
Now, most of what is written during that month is first-draft material. When I tried to do this several years ago, the information supplied to the writers said as much. They also said to write and not to edit. Once written, don't go back and change it.
Now, several years later, I can easily do 2-3 thousand words per day, more if I'm willing to put in the time. They aren't great words, but they are on the screen. I'm also still learning the need to outline. Once I finish my current first draft, the first thing I've written that I like, I will write an outline and figure out what I need to do to write it properly (increase the dramatic tension and make things matter to my protagonist).